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Oregon State defense can't contain Garbers as Beavers' run game held in check

The Beavers got off to a slow start on Saturday and never fully recovered, falling to California 39-25 on the road. Oregon State (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) was hoping to return from the road trip with its sixth win, but the candy bowl was empty on the final weekend of October.

Big picture: Senior quarterback Chase Garbers was electric for Cal, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another as the Bears improved to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in conference and kept Oregon State from clinching bowl eligibility. Garbers picked up a total of 58 yards on the ground and did not throw an interception during the game.

Oregon State started the Halloween weekend with a fright after star running back BJ Baylor had the ball stolen away by Cal linebacker Marqez Bimage on the first play of the game. Following a third-down conversion after starting on the 22 yard line, Golden Bears quarterback Garbers ran in a two-yard score to put the home team up 7-0. The teams traded listless possessions for the rest of the quarter, with Cal adding a Dario Longhetto field goal to go up 10-0 after one.

The offense came alive a bit in the second quarter for the Beavers, most notably with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Chance Nolan to Trevon Bradford. Still, Oregon State trailed 17-10 at halftime and had to give the ball back after the break.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, Garbers found Christopher Brooks for a 38-yard score. The Beavers got one back near the end of the quarter on a Deshaun Fenwick run, but the Bears quickly regained momentum. After blocking a Luke Loescher punt, Cal scored in just one play as Garbers hit Trevon Clark for a 38-yard touchdown on the last play of the quarter.

Nolan answered back with his own deep strike, hitting Bradford for a 46-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the fourth quarter. After a long drive, Garbers tossed his third passing score of the game to put the score at 39-25 with over five minutes to play. On the very next play from scrimmage, Nolan threw a long interception. The Beavers never saw the ball again.

Notable numbers: Oregon State failed to get the run game going at its usual level of excellence. The Beavers had been averaging 245 yards on the ground through seven games, but the Cal defense held them to just 134. While that number is not terrible, the OSU passing game was not working well enough for the Beavers to be running at half-speed. … Praised for his caution with the ball early in the season, Chance Nolan has now thrown five interceptions to just four touchdowns over the team's past four games. … Nolan and Bradford connected for a pair of TDs against Cal and Bradford finished with six catches for 124 yards. … For the second game in a row, the Beaver defense failed to generate a takeaway. Oregon State had at least one takeaway in each of the first five games of the season.

Reaction: The loss does not derail Oregon State on its quest to get back to the postseason, but it certainly slows down the train. The next two matchups against Colorado (2-6) and Stanford (3-4 entering its Saturday game with Washington) pit the Beavers against sub-.500 teams, so the chances are still there to get that sixth — and ideally, seventh — win of the season.

To get those wins, though, the Beavers need to figure out how to come out of the gate ready. The team was able to recover from a 24-14 halftime deficit to beat Utah last week, but another slow start doomed them Saturday in Berkeley.

"We made a game of it, we just didn't play well enough to win," said OSU head coach Jonathan Smith in postgame comments to 1240 KEJO-AM radio. "Cal did. They went out and won the game and beat us."

The OSU defense needs to tighten up, as well. The team has not forced any turnovers in the past two weeks, and allowing Garbers to slip out of sacks on multiple occasions did not help. On the clinching Cal TD with 5:36 remaining, Garbers evaded a tackler before finding Christopher Brooks wide open on a not-so-broken play. Instead, Cal felt little resistance as it established the run and executed well in the passing game.

All is not lost for the Beavers. This latest loss is a somewhat sobering result for a team that thought it might be celebrating bowl eligibility; however, the program is still light-years ahead of where it was a few years ago. Cal is much better than its record would indicate, too.

Perhaps most importantly for Beaver Nation, the fact that this defeat stings as much as it does should be a reminder that Oregon State is still playing meaningful football as the calendar flips to November. It is the second time in three years — with a strange COVID-affected season in between — that Oregon State is in the hunt for six wins. So take a breath, lick these wounds and get ready for another run at bowl eligibility next week.

Up next: Oregon State at Colorado, 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, (Pac-12 Network).

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